Deadlines, family commitments, and some technical difficulties have delayed our May dip into the LOAC Wheel of Fortune, but it’s not like we forgot or anything, believe me!
Since May is the fifth month of the year,. we opted to look at all our releases to-date that have a “5” in their volume number — that encompasses “Volume 5s,” “Volume 15s,” and in the case of Dick Tracy, even a Volume 25! For the first time, if memory serves, we’re also including a pair of 2019 releases in a Wheel of Fortune population, since both Spider-Man and Donald Duck celebrated their fifth volumes (in Donald’s case, his fifth volume of dailies).
So here’s the population, eleven titles strong:
Looking at the list, I found a few surprises in it — I didn’t realize we finished the Al Williamson run on Corrigan before our seventy-fifth release, or that Bungle Family (which is still fresh in my mind, a testament to the quality of the strip) fell into our first hundred books. Anyway, here it is, loaded into the Wheel and ready for a big spin:
And this month’s featured title is <insert drum roll and dramatic pause here> …
A few months ago in this space I showed you some photos of our LOAC books, arrayed on my bookshelves — you can see it here, if you’d like a refresher.
More recently, we received some impressive bookshelf photos from another comics historian, the estimable Barry Pearl. Check out this first of five shots of Mr. Pearl’s amassed comics collections and be prepared, like me, to resist the urge to whistle in appreciation …
Several years ago we took some time in this space to show you what my LOAC bookshelf looked like. I shelve my books in alphabetical order by author, or by publisher where that makes more sense — for instance, while my William Saroyans are under “S”, my Fantastic Fours are under “M”, with the rest of my Marvel Comics collections. My Library of American Comics titles are therefore under “L,” and then shelved alphabetically in a logical way (well, logical to me, anyway), as you can see:
— That’s where the fun is, Way Out!
And kudos to those who remember that lift from The Flintstones, but this announcement has nothing to do with the modern Stone Age family … although it does bring good news for fans of adventures set long ago in a galaxy far, far away …
The reactions to our four-volume Tarzan set showed how many of you like Russ Manning’s art. We like it, too, so we’re delighted to tell you that the Star Wars newspaper strip is coming to The Library of American Comics!
Starting in spring of 2017 with the first of a three-volume set, the battles between the Rebel Alliance and the evil Empire will be preserved between hard covers, as initially rendered by Manning (later to be followed by two other popular artists, Alfredo Alcala and Al Williamson), with stories provided by Manning and additional writers including another of our favorites, Steve Gerber (again, later, by the inimitable Archie Goodwin).
I won’t hard-sell you or offer up any corny lines about the Force being with us — I’ll just say we’ve navigated the long and winding path necessary to bring you the Star Wars strips many have requested, and we think you’ll like the results!
But that’s not all …
With Star Wars joining Star Trek and Beyond Mars in our LOAC line-up, there was one other major “space opera” strip we hoped to reprint, and we’re pleased to announce we’re turning those hopes into reality. Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for a trip to the Barnum star system —
Yes, Star Hawks will also be coming your way, starting in 2017! It’s the brainchild of science fiction author/comics historian Ron Goulart, who teamed with comic book artist extraordinaire Gil Kane to entertain newspaper audiences with lighthearted tales of SFnal derring-do featuring ILS officer Rex Jaxan, his stellar law-enforcement partner Chavez, their robot dog Sniffer, and their boss, the lovely Alice K. Star Hawks was produced in “two-tier” format — essentially the size of two daily comic strips — which allowed Kane to play with design and panel layout in ways that other newspaper adventure-strip artists could only envy, as shown in this example from the series’s debut :
Kane was recognized by the National Cartoonist Society for his work on Star Hawks, and when Ron Goulart departed the feature Archie Goodwin, Roger McKenzie, and Roger Stern followed him in succession as scripters. The daily also eventually shifted to the standard single-tier format, but ZAM!, Kane’s artwork still looks dynamic, and the fun quotient remains high throughout the life of the strip.
We hope you’ll join us for the LOAC debuts of Star Wars and Star Hawks, in what’s sure to be a science fictional (20)17!
In my house, when I was a boy growing up, we always had a “junk drawer,” that catchall where everything went that didn’t quite fit anywhere else. When my siblings or I would complain that we couldn’t find a particular item, the inevitable question would come back, “Did you look in the junk drawer?”
Today I still have the equivalent of a junk drawer for a portion of my LOAC filing. I don’t think of it as a junk drawer, of course — there are too many terrific items stored inside it that could never qualify as “junk!” But certain outsized articles, or thick bundles of clipped strips, or, yes, things that otherwise don’t quite fit anywhere else all end up in this one particular file cabinet drawer.
I recently had cause to open that drawer, searching for one specific article, and as typically happens I found myself looking through a batch of other artifacts before I found what I was seeking. One of those stray pieces that caught my attention was the tribute booklet King Features Syndicate assembled in honor of George McManus and Bringing Up Father on the advent of the strip’s twentieth anniversary. Thumbing through that jumbo-sized pamphlet, I took particular note of the spread that featured a look at how Jiggs’s physical appearance had changed throughout the history of the series:
Giving equal attention to both main characters, King provided a similar look at how Maggie morphed from stocky dowager to trim fashionista. Maggie’s display went Jiggs’s one better, since it included the years from which the images were taken:
It occurred to me that it might be fun to see how the looks of other major comics characters had evolved over time. I started by going back to 1926 with Little Orphan Annie, snagging an image from mid-June of that year, culled from one of my favorite Harold Gray stories, guest-starring Pee Wee the Elephant. Almost twenty years later, on April 15, 1946, I selected a panel showing how Annie had grown and matured. Fifteen years after that, in July of 1961, it’s arguable whether or not America’s Spunkiest Kid looks younger than she did in 1946, but her hair has definitely got wilder and more unruly!
Dick Tracy looks lean and lanky in this first panel, from June 27, 1932. In 1947, fifteen years later, he’s favoring a snap-brim fedora and his profile has become even more chiseled. Moving down the timeline another nineteen years, to 1966, Tracy arguable looks more weathered, with deeper lines around his eyes. His chapeau is more compact and close-fitting — but his necktie has remained incredibly resilient! (Note that Moon Maid is present in the background of the 1966 panel — you’ll be meeting her soon in our ongoing Dick Tracy series.)
Having taken snapshots in time of both Annie and Tracy, it was only natural to look at Terry Lee, the third star in the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate’s three “crown jewels.” As you can see below, in 1935 the star of Terry and the Pirates was a boyish adventurer very much in the Tom Swift/Tintin tradition. A decade later, with America and her Allies poised to emerge victorious from the conflicts of the Second World War, the Terry we see listening with surprise as he gets an earful from Johnny Jingo is a mature young man who has fulfilled creator Milton Caniff’s goal of growing up to displace Pat Ryan as the adult focus of the strip that bears his name. Fifteen years further down the timeline, in this panel from May 1, 1961, George Wunder’s Terry has aged gracefully — he’s filled out, with broader shoulders and a more rounded face. No matter his age, though, Terry Lee’s fate regularly seems to be entwined with that of exotic, mysterious women!
Since King Features characters set me on this path, it seemed proper that I pick another KFS star to conclude my look at character evolution. I think you’ll enjoy examining the radical changes that occur in the look of Secret Agent X-9, Phil Corrigan, as we move from his natty Hammettesque 1935 rendering (the product of Alex Raymond’s talented pen) to his more rumpled, almost slope-shouldered, January 31, 1957 Mel Graff appearance to his suave 1971 look, courtesy of Al Williamson.
Given the disposable nature of daily newspapers and the inevitable audience turnover, one is left to wonder how many readers noted these visual changes over time. Certainly the stylistic differences of the artists who drew X-9/Corrigan would be hard to miss, but was it a relatively seamless transition for most readers from Caniff to George Wunder on Terry? And for strips produced by the same hand for decades — Little Orphan Annie, Bringing Up Father, Dick Tracy — how often did the changes in physical appearance get noticed and, when noticed, how often did they get accepted with a simple mental shrug? None of us were there, none of us can really know — but it’s certainly fun to ponder!
“What’s the real Archie Goodwin really like?” is the title of a fascinating behind-the-scenes essay by Anne T. Murphy, Archie’s widow, in the second volume of X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson that will be on sale soon.
Anne writes, “Every comics family hears questions like these from fans and interviewers alike, yet new fallacies constantly spring up and get spread online. We know the facts, but are rarely asked; and when asked, if our facts don’t fit the preconception, we’re tuned out and the fan defaults to his own mental image.”
Anne sets the record straight about Archie’s early career: “Following his studies at the School of Visual Arts, Archie worked at Redbook as a junior graphic artist in a large art department, spent two years as an Army draftee, and returned to paste-ups and layouts at Redbook. Contrary towikipedia and other self-appointed experts, he was never chief editor of Redbook [Lembiek], and didn’t start his cartooning career there, never joined the Harvey Comics staff in 1962—he was stuck in Virginia on an Army post—and never edited in the sense of selecting or editing content atRedbook…. Fans unable to fit Redbook into his later career created this grandiose resume.
Redbook, however, is very important and does matter: it was a learning ground for everything about how professional magazines are put together, and this—not anything learned in comics—equipped him to be editor-in-chief of the Warren magazines. Archie and I met at Redbook, where we both had day jobs. He wrote at night—often two full free-lance stories on the nights I attended NYU graduate school classes—and had just sold a prose story written as a New School assignment to Ellery Queen Magazine…”
There’s more, of course. Lots more. But you don’t think we’re going to print it all here, do you? We’ve got to leave some surprises for the book.
So some heroes change over time, aging at roughly the same rate as the persons who are reading his exploits, but sometimes—even though styles for his supporting cast are allowed to adjust to the current norms – there are heroes who are almost frozen, immune to and unchanged by time. This holds true for crime busters as well as teenagers: note there’s very little change in Phil Corrigan’s look during Al Williamson’s thirteen-plus years artistically helming X-9/Secret Agent Corrigan. Here’s Phil from 1967, early in Williamson’s run:
Corrigan is not quite as unchanged as Archie—he wears his hair slightly longer and is somewhat more willing to ditch the neckties—but he’s pretty much the same straight-arrow symbol of righteousness readers saw at the start of Williamson’s tenure.
When you’re talking “straight-arrow symbols of righteousness,” of course, you’re talking Dick Tracy. While Chester Gould scarcely deviated from Tracy’s suit-and-tie, hat-and-yellow-topcoat look, time washed over Tracy’s appearance, wearing gradual changes in it the way even the stoutest rock is changed by the coming and going of the tides. Gould started by giving his audience a reed-thin, natty-looking Tracy when the series bowed in 1931:
Thirteen years later, in 1944, America was in the midst of World War II and Dick Tracy was wrapping up his battle against Flattop. By this time he seems a more rugged, square-jawed lawman:
A decade after that Tracy’s lines seem cleaner, his hat rides higher on his head, and his gadgetry is a pervasive background element, creating barely an eyeblink thanks do Gould’s diagrammatic captioning:
A final thought on this subject: it’s easy for us to see the evolution (or lack of same) in the depiction of our favorite newspaper comic characters. We walk over to our bookshelves and pull down various books that allow us to put strips originally published years apart side-by-side for easy comparison. It wasn’t as easy for the newspaper readers who followed these series at the time they were being released, installment by installment, in hometown papers all across the land. How many members of the audience were aware of the ways Annie or Tracy or Terry changed across decades? A mighty small percentage of them, I bet!
Alert reader and Secret Agent X-9 fan Douglas Oberg brought to our attention this fascinating bit of trivia. He writes:
“I was watching Columbo DVDs with friends this past holiday weekend. In one of the episodes the suspect is a CIA agent—the Director of the CIA meets with Columbo and shows him his ID (see attached).”
The episode—Season 5, Episode 3: Identity Crisis—aired November 2, 1975. It was written by William Driskill and series creators Richard Levinson and William Link.
Thanks, Douglas for sharing this!
Further, our pal Andrew Mansell tells us that the character was portrayed by actor David White, best known as “Larry Tate” on Betwitched!